In Spite of You (5:35), Part of Me (3:05), Scars (4:27), Deathbed Confession (4:19), Temple (3:51), Elliot (3:44), Spit (3:14), Mary (4:55), Bones of God (4:07), Tanta Furia (4:12), Eulogy (5:25)
We're already into March: so it's Part Three of my New Year's Resolution to review an out-of-my-comfort-zone album every month in 2017. I began on a promising note in January with a journey into the electronic pop rock of Italian band Metadrive, whilst February brought a whole style of music than I am not sure anyone has ever tried before, from German harpist and Mellotron player Nerissa Schwarz and her Playgrounds Lost.
The expansive vaudeville meets dark, indie, gothic avant-pop of Brighton's Birdeatsbaby, has certainly never featured on DPRP before, but is no-less of an interest to fans seeking new sounds from the outer-limits of the progressive genre.
Tanta Furia is apparently Spanish for "So Much Fury". I wouldn't describe any of the music on this album as furious, but there is certainly a spiky angst to the dark, lounge-bar, cabaret vocals and lyrics of singer and pianist Mishkin Fitzgerald. She certainly leads from the front, with her voice, staccato piano and love-wronged lyrics dominating the opening duo of In Spite of You and Part of Me.
However its the detailing provided by the band's many influences that wins the day for me. The songs are sharp and to the point but the wide blend of piano, accordion, violin, cello and synths, over the more traditional band composition, plus some cleverly-textured vocal harmonies, ensures this is one of the most dynamically rich albums I have heard in recent times. Despite the dark lyrics and tones, there is a sense of fun, a joie de vivre, gaiety that can only be infectious. Try the wryly-observed story behind the gin-inspired Elliot.
The band have heavily toured with their three previous albums, and their big video presence of YouTube suggests that they are a captivating live encounter with a loyal fan base. To get a fuller flavour of their varied music try the video link below to the track Temple, then try the choral gospel of Mary and then the more uncomfortable pop of Eulogy. Like me and many others, you will be hooked. I just love the cover too!
Fred: "Yabba daba doo, Wilma please come and hear this band on Bedrock radio." Wilma: "Ok Fred. Just finishing my essay on what music might be like in the future. Anyway I am pretty sure that the music of bands like the one you are listening to will become extinct by the year 2017." Fred: "No chance of that Wilma, quality always wins through in the end." Wilma: "Maybe Fred, but what's the band's name anyway." Fred: "They are called Dinosaur." Wilma: "No chance of extinction then!" Fred: "Never, this music will age, just like a fine wine."
Together As One draws its inspiration from a number of sources. It has the drive and energy associated with rock, the qualities of improvisation and innovation associated with jazz, and the inventive ability that is characterised by progressive music. It presents compositions that do not firmly comply with any clearly defined labels or specific genre tags.
Together As One will no doubt be located in the jazz section of record stores alongside Louis Armstrong and other classic artists, but that is too simplistic. It would be like filing, or pairing the music of Status Quo with Gentle Giant in the store's rock section. It is an album that delivers in every way possible, is full of surprises and has a wonderful aftertaste.
The album was recorded as a co-production with BBC3's New Generation of Artist's scheme. Dinosaur's debut album is music for the 21st century. The ever-present shadow of Miles Davis, plus the influence of contemporary jazz and jazz-rock fusion in general, gives Together As One an appeal that is likely to satisfy audiences both young and old, and from across a wide musical spectrum. It is an album that embraces the spirit of adventure and emotive pull of the present, with the multi-skilled talents so frequently exhibited by fusion artists of the past.
An ability to satisfy and impress is apparent throughout, and is particularly noticeable on the occasions when an infectious groove is expelled by its outstanding rhythm section, in pieces like the stimulating, yet insatiably complex Primordial, or when spacious compositions such as, Extinct invite the listener to tread water and linger for a while, to be immersed in the retro waves of Elliot Graves' superb Hammond work.
Furiously-phrased trumpet parts are an integral part of the band's varied repertoire. These are delivered with gusto by Laura Jurd. Her skilful mastery makes it easy to be awestruck when the fury abates. Tempestuous playing is alternated with delicately languid melodies that give Jurd an opportunity to highlight her abilities, and express the full range of her emotive style. There is no doubt that Miles would have given his seal of approval to her magnificent contribution. If you enjoyed Miles Davis' Bitches Brew era and beyond, you may well find yourself salivating over this band's creative recipe and appetisingly-mixed menu awaiting consumption.
Laura Jurd is the band leader and she is responsible for all eight compositions on the album. She received the United Kingdom's Parliamentary Jazz Award for instrumentalist of the year in 2015. Her previous releases were recorded under her own name, but in 2016 Jurd decided to rebrand her band as Dinosaur to reflect the new path and more contemporary direction that she wished the group to take. Her previous album Human Spirit featured the compelling and expressive voice of Lauren Kinsella on a number of tracks and explored the relationship between jazz and folk idioms. In Together As One, the players tread a different and arguably more appealing path that hopefully after reading this review, readers of DPRP might be motivated to discover. To mark Dinosaur's debut release, Jurd decided to use electric instruments and encompass an approach that draws not only upon jazz, but incorporates rock, world music and folk influences.
Jurd's effervescent trumpet playing brings a refreshing fizz to the music, but what makes Together As One so engaging and accessible, and perhaps therefore more inviting to a prog rock audience, is the shining contribution of Elliot Galvin. His Rhodes or organ work is at the heart of everything, and his remarkable and textured playing offers a series of hooks for Jurd to obligingly exploit.
Galvin's Rhodes solo has a pivotal role in Primordial. His finely-tuned contribution swings and rocks its way to a conclusion, which perfectly complements the rhythmic nature of the piece. The blistering, distorted lines in this piece and also throughout the album, brought to mind the important role that the Rhodes had in Isotope where it frequently provided the foundation for Gary Boyle's frenetic guitar licks.
The droning spiralling whirling of Galvin's Hammond makes Extinct one of the most appealing pieces on the album. The exciting interplay between his intricately woven patterns and Jurd's high energy soloing is quite bewitching, and only serves to affirm that alongside Primordial, Extinct is probably the album's best track.
It is tremendous to discover a band of young players that has its own identity and style, yet is able to draw upon the influence of a rich heritage of artists as diverse as Miles Davis, Weather Report and Ian Carr's Nucleus, in order to create their own contemporary sound. I hope that Dinosaur continue to develop their unique brand and remain able to express themselves and stretch out with controlled abandon, as they did so successfully in tracks such as Awakening and Living, Breathing.
Dinosaur's attractive amalgam of styles evidently has great appeal, and it was interesting to note at their recent gig at Manchester's Band on the Wall, that their music had cross-generational support and attracted both jazz and prog aficionados. Dinosaur's sparkling debut is blessed with timeless qualities that like its standout piece, Extinct is sure to age well; just like a fine wine.
All that is left for me to say is: "Yabba daba do!"
In Her Mind (3:59), Nevertheless (2:52), Violet Dew (3:51), Will Tomorrow Be The Same (3:14), Still I Can See (4:19), In The Early Days (3:39) Another Time, Another Place (4:27), Morning of Yesterday (4:11), Betty Brown (3:06), St. Georg and the Dragon (4:58), Confusion (5:08), Please (2:53), Mark Time (2:53), Please (MKII) (2:56)
Apart from being the era that brought us The Beatles, who would prove to be real society changers, the sixties will also be remembered by the emergence of what we now call 'folk rock'. American west-coast bands like The Mamas and The Papas and The Beach Boys, and UK-bands like The Seekers and Fairport Convention introduced a totally new type of music based on acoustic guitars, harmony singing and, in quite a few cases, female lead vocals.
That dynamic cultural development inspired a multi-national group of people, gathered around Norwegian guitarist George Hultgreen (later well-known as George Kajanus) and English bass player Trevor Lucas to form a band Eclection, named after their diverse geographical origin and their varied musical interests. Other members were Gerry Conway (drums) from the UK, Canadian Michael Rosen (guitar, trumpet) and Australian singer Kerrilee Male.
Enthusiastically supported by the then world-famous Electra label, they recorded their self-named debut album in 1968 hoping that the variety of songs would bring them big sales and many gigs. But things would turn out totally different. The album-sales were dim, and soon after the release of the album Male left for Australia, never to return again. With replacement singer Dorris Henderson, the band never succeeded in getting back the original enthusiasm and spirit. That is apparent from the only track on the album (Please (MKII)) featuring Henderson on the lead vocals; she is more soulful and less folky than Male. By the end of 1969 the band decided to stop, enabling Lucas and Conway to form Fortheringay with Lucas' then girlfriend (and later wife) Sandy Denny. Kajanus would re-emerge in the seventies with Sailor and become world-famous with a joyous type of pop music, a musical direction that has its origin in Eclection where he was the main songwriter.
Now the original album is re-released by Esoteric Records with three bonus tracks and a very informative booklet full of rare photographs, and in which several original members look back at this short-lived musical adventure. They all speak warmly about the band and their musical ambitions; their regret that it didn't work out as they had hoped, is still tangible.
Listening to the album now brings back many nice memories from those special days. Love, peace and happiness come back to mind immediately. Especially as the harmony vocals still sound excellent, as well as the nice orchestral arrangements on several songs. St. George and the Dragon is a nice example, with a big band-like arrangement, backing nice acoustic guitars. The use of trumpet is restrained but tasteful (a nice solo in Morning of Yesterday and background playing in Another Time, Another Place, amongst others) and the 12-string acoustic guitars are all over the place. The fact that Male didn't do most of the lead vocals is something Kajanus regrets in hindsight, but although she indeed has a very beautiful voice, the male vocals are more than competent. I really don't think that the album would have done better, had it featured more female vocals.
Almost 50 years have passed since the inception of this album and that can be heard also. A folky track like Betty Brown sounds quite outdated, as well as the oohh's and aahhh's in Violet Dew. On the other hand, an up-tempo track like Nevertheless is as timeless as can be, and wouldn't stand misplaced amongst folk-rock classics like Steeleye Span's All Around My Hat or Magna Carta's Seasons.
Eclection is a nice listen, a renewed plunge into the innocence and optimism of the sixties and a very welcome addition to the music from that special era. Maybe not too proggy in a strict sense, but far too attractive to neglect. I recommend it warmly for all those who like to re-live that era.
CD 1: Message from Space (3:50), The Mystery of the Cosmic Sorrow (8:30), Methane Rain (8:18), Gamma Waves (5:30), Born to Suffer (10:09), Silent World (8:50), Valley of Oblivion (6:03)
CD 2: Following a Neutrino's Flight (9:29), The End of the Satellite Age: I. Hard Times, II. The Great Dance, III. It Went the Wrong Way, IV. Brand New Program, V. Falling Down (23:26), Space (6:02)
Eternal Wanderers were formed in Moscow in 1997 by the Kanevskaya sisters, Elena (lead vocals, keyboards) and Tatyana Kanevskaya (guitars, backing vocals), along with Dmitry Shtatnov (bass, backing vocals, analog synths and effects) and Sergey Rogulya (drums, percussion). The Mystery of the Cosmic Sorrow is their third album, following up on 2008's The Door to a Parallel World and 2011's So Far and So Near.
This new album is a double CD release and is full of progressive goodness. It mixes IQ-like neo-prog with space rock, electronics and psychedelic touches. The album opens slowly with an ambient, atmospheric overture before starting properly with the title track. Commencing with its feet firmly in the neo-prog camp, it then develops a Kraftwerk-like groove of synth bleeps and swooshes. It's the soundtrack to a race through the cityscape of Blade Runner. This had me sitting up and paying attention.
The songs that follow, feature Elena's strong, lightly-accented vocals. Methane Rain pits menacing organ and wah-wah guitar, against the pulsing synths and driving rhythm section, and it is not afraid of adding heaviness in the central section. On the instrumental Gamma Waves there is a bass-driven section that channels Lemmy from his Hawkwind days, but Eternal Wanderers are not averse to mixing this up with psychedelic jazz runs.
The first disc ploughs a rewarding furrow. Building layers of keyboards interlaced with fine guitar, whilst being more than willing to go exploring in the instrumental sections of these ambitious songs. A case in point is the first disc's closing song Valley of Oblivion. This is what you would imagine Tangerine Dream might sound like, doing a power ballad. Here, Elena's voice finds a deeper, honeyed register, and there is an elegant dual between guitar and synth. It is a good way to finish the first disc and it points the way to the extraordinary second disc.
Disc two has just three tracks on it, and it could almost be by a different band, if Eternal Wanderers hadn't sown clues to its sound-world throughout the first disc. Opening with Following a Neutrino's Flight, you are thrown straight into a melange of sequenced synths and floating guitar, which mid-way turns into a short song, before returning to the electronics. For me this echoes Tangerine Dream around the time of Force Majeure (just to be clear: that's a good thing).
Eternal Wanderers then produce The End of the Satellite Age, an outstanding blend of symphonic prog and electronics, wrapped-up in a five-part instrumental. This track has such an orchestral density to it that I ended up scouring the liner notes to see who the orchestra were. But it appears it is done by keyboards and samplers. Amongst the pulsing keys and bass there are hints of Phillip Glass in the harmonies. It moves from electronics and sound washes, through full-on orchestral sections and back to synths and a wonderful guitar, that is a feature on the cracking concluding section. Its 23 minutes fly by, and this could well turn out to be my track of the year.
After this epic (and it truly deserves that epithet) the closing track Space seems a little out of place, although Alisher Zvid's excellent saxophone does a good job at saving it. This might have been better if placed on the first disc and replaced by one of the instrumentals. But this is a small negative point.
Overall then, The Mystery of the Cosmic Sorrow by Eternal Wanderers is a double album that is devoid of tedious passages, and adventurously pushes the neo-prog envelope way out into the galaxy. So come you adventurously-eared space cadets, jump on board for a great listen.
Lingchi (5:33), After the Dopamine (4:19), Stillness (4:40), The Hatch (2:51), Acatalepsy (4:22), Crystal Catcher (4:12), Pince Rupert's Drop (6:45), Coexist (4:53), These Roots Know No Bounderies (5:24), Boxes (4:33)
It is rare at this point to hear a new band or artist that sounds legitimately fresh and unlike anything you've heard before. I wouldn't say that Sphelm accomplishes that across the board, but the duo (Mike McKnight and Tim Powell) certainly make a valiant run at it. They describe their music as follows: "We sing lovely harmonies, play melodic acoustic guitar in a weird tuning, mixed with dirty synths and electronic beats". That is accurate, and their interesting mix of styles is presented in a way that is consistently unique and intriguing.
Always a bit eclectic and at times odd, the meshing of various styles works well. Considering their obvious talents as acoustic musicians and vocalists, they could have settled on being a modern folk rock band. Their harmonies (at times with guest vocalist Vicky Kerr) are very impressive and there is a strong folk rock sound on this, their debut album. However the duo seem driven to not be pigeon-holed to any one style of music. A wise move and it's what puts them squarely in the prog category. These Roots Know No Bounderies is a fascinating listen and one that is at times affectionately retro, but also very modern.
Opening track, Lingdri, establishes their quirky range right from the start. The slow-building electronic opening of the song takes an unexpected acoustic turn, before re-establishing the sonic build, to its conclusion. Much of the album follows this unpredictable course. The marriage of acoustic and electronic styles is sometimes a bit jarring, but the compositional unpredictability is what keeps you guessing. Exceptions to this rule exist, such as the more straightforward and quite lovely, Stillness.
More often than not though, songs will cleverly mesh acoustic, ambient, rock and electronic elements. Prince Rupert's Drop and the title track are great examples of how they accomplish this successfully. Though some songs resonate a bit more than others, this album is a consistently fine listen from beginning to end.
It is refreshing to hear musicians actively trying to create something a bit different. Sphelm challenges the listener in positive ways and the album contains some beautiful melodies and considerable twists and turns along the way. Running at just over 45 minutes, it is also a concise album. Perhaps the rekindled interest in vinyl has driven this, but I have noticed a lot of newer artists making shorter albums these days. This is not a bad thing and there is a definite logic in quality over quantity. Regardless, this is a very entertaining debut by a duo that is well worth keeping an eye on.
The Roadmap In Your Head (3:56), Sun Sculptor & The Electrobilities (3:50), The Birth Of Belief (8:38), Coffee For Coltrane (6:58), Isolation In 10 80 (2:55), Mrs. Noonness (4:12), The Old College Sky Is Where We Left It (1:28), Fuel For The Gods (13:05), Early Evening Rain (3:31), Black Squirrel At The Root Of The Staircase (7:34), Outsiders Parachute In (5:48), Deja Vu (2:25), La Rue Inconnue (4:48), Roadmaps (The Other Way) (5:59)
This is the 13th release by the space-rock collective Spirits Burning. It is the second to feature Clearlight, known to his family as Cyrille Verdeaux, on keyboards of various kinds. The album, The Roadmap In Your Head, is dedicated to Spirits Burning collaborator and Gong's late main man Daevid Allen, whose presence on guitar and vocals bookend the album.
Alongside Allen are a number of alumni from both the Gong of the Radio Gnome era (Steve Hillage, Mike Howlett and Didier Malherbe) and more recent Gong members (Ian East, Fabio Golfetti, Dave Sturt, Theo Travis and Kavus Torabi). Also joining them are Hawkwind family members Steve Bemand, Nik Turner and Bridget Wishart. Amongst the 35 people that appear on the album are Albert Bouchard from Blue Öyster Cult and Judy Dyble from Fairport Convention. Though some of the guests only appear on one track.
Given the background of the collective talents here, it is surprising that the album is not as eccentric nor as whimsical as one might expect. The Roadmap In Your Head is mainly an instrumental album. The instrumentals tend to fall into two groups. The shorter ones are a bit more psychedelic and world music infused, whilst the longer ones take the time to build some great mid-paced, space-rock grooves. These have jazzy and electronic touches that remind me of parts of the Gong albums You and Shamal.
Therein lies the problem with this album for me. The shorter pieces feel a little unfinished at times, and do not hold my interest as much as the longer ones. There are a couple of exceptions, one is the pulsing synth of Sun Sculptor & The Electrobilities, and the other is the spry piano and organ interplay on Mrs. Noonness.
There is not really a weak track amongst the longer works here. The fabulous Black Squirrel At The Root Of The Staircase is a rolling space-prog number powered by Steve Bemand's insistent guitar and Verdeaux's electric piano. The great fretless bass pulse and the flute folk-melody of Fuel For The Gods is a joy. Both would sit happily on Gong's You. The more jazz-leaning tracks such as The Birth Of Belief and Coffee For Coltrane (the latter featuring the wonderful sax of Theo Travis) would have been a shoe-in on Shamal.
It would have been a tighter and more manageable listen (75 minutes is a long, but admittedly value for money length) had the shorter songs been on a second disc or just omitted. I can see myself returning regularly to the longer tracks on The Roadmap In Your Head. This album is not just for Gong completists, it's also for those who like their space-rock orbiting a world of jazzy ambience.